July 8, 2013 at 1:00 am

Tony Paul

Dodgers' Puig deserves All-Star spot; Tigers' Leyland is middle man

Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig scores on an A.J. Ellis double against the San Francisco Giants during the ninth inning Sunday. He went 2-for-4 to raise his average to a robust .409. (George Nikitin/Associated Press)

It’s rare that an All-Star debate is carried out at such a fever pitch.

But that’s what’s happened with the case of young Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig.

He debuted in Major League Baseball on June 2. So, should he really be selected to participate in an All-Star Game on July 16?

The answer: Of course he should.

Jonathan Papelbon may consider the idea “a joke,” but the only joke is that Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who oversees the National League team, pawned off the responsibility of picking Puig on the fans.

Bochy clearly didn’t want the heat, so he stuck Puig on the Final Vote ballot.

There are two problems with this.

One, Puig should’ve made the team from the get-go, because if the All-Star Game really matters — and amazingly, it continues to determine home-field advantage in the World Series — then the players who can most help get the win should be going. And nobody, with a straight face, can argue the NL team isn’t far better with Puig than without him.

Thirty-two games into his big league career, the 22-year-old from Cuba has 52 hits, including eight home runs. He’s batting .409, with 19 RBIs.

Two, putting Puig on the Final Vote ballot takes every breath of drama out of that. Voting for that ends at 4 p.m. Thursday, but we all know who will win — sorry, Ian Desmond, Freddie Freeman, Adrian Gonzalez and Hunter Pence, you have zero chance.

They don’t release the vote totals, but you can bank that it won’t be particularly close. Puig’s popularity is red hot, so fans will make him an All-Star.

And that’s the right thing to do.

Even if we’re going about it the wrong way.

Leyland 'sets up' Final Vote

Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who will guide the American League team, did very little hinting over the last few weeks in regards to how his roster would look.

Except, perhaps, when it came to the Final Vote ballot.

Asked in Toronto by a Blue Jays reporter if he would consider middle relievers — who often get overlooked here — Leyland pointed out that when he managed the team in 2007, he was sure to include multiple middle relievers among the five men on the Final Vote.

This time, Leyland went a step beyond that: the whole ballot is middle relievers and setup men, among them Steve Delabar, David Robertson, Koji Uehara, Tanner Scheppers and Detroit’s Joaquin Benoit, who only recently became a closer.

“People think of starters and closers,” Leyland said. “But the setup guy has been a very integral part of baseball the last several years.

“I put those guys on in 2007, just for that reason. And I think it was good on my part to do that. I mean, I’m bragging a little bit, but I think it was a smart thing to do because I think it was the right thing to do.”

Few were more surprised than the uber-energetic Uehara, of the Red Sox, who never considered he would be considered. “I was going to book some tee times,” the right-hander told MLB.com.

Grilli confident now

Five years ago, he was getting booed out of Detroit. Three years ago, he wasn’t even in the major leagues. Now, for the first time, Jason Grilli is an All-Star.

What’s changed since he was a Tiger?

“You have to have people believing in you,” Brandon Inge, his teammate then in Detroit and now in Pittsburgh, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “With Jason, I think he felt like every pitch could be his last back then. He was in middle relief, which isn’t great for job security in the first place, and I think there were some up high who didn’t have faith.”

Like who? Inge wouldn’t say, other than to say it wasn’t Leyland.

“To me, he’s the same pitcher,” Inge told the newspaper. “It’s just the confidence.”

Grilli, 36, had five saves in 10 years entering 2013; he has 28 this season in 29 chances.

Scherzer has good shot

Leyland won’t tip his hand on whether his own pitcher, Max Scherzer, will start the All-Star Game. He said he’ll make an official announcement the day before the game.

But it’s hard to imagine he’d say no on Scherzer, even though he is scheduled to pitch the Saturday before the game — and thus might be able to go only one inning in New York.

Scherzer already has had a historic season, and could very well be 15-0 by the time the All-Star Game actually rolls around.

As for the NL, Matt Harvey (7-2, 2.27 ERA) is the heavy favorite, given the game is at the Mets ace’s home ballpark.

And if it’s Harvey, he’ll be the first pitcher to start the All-Star Game at his own park since Roger Clemens in 2004, when the game was at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

All-Star snubs

AL: Not a good day to be a Tampa Bay Ray, apparently. Third baseman Evan Longoria (.292, 17 homers, 49 RBIs) and first baseman James Loney (.320, nine homers, 43 RBIs) both missed out — the victims of playing at two stacked positions. So Ben Zobrist (.264, five homers, 44 RBIs), who can play second base and outfield, was the Rays’ rep, instead.
NL: Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman missed out, despite his .306 average, .382 on-base percentage and 56 RBIs. That said, it’s hard to argue with the two reserve first basemen selected, Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks and Allen Craig of the Cardinals. It’s always a deep position, first base.